Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.
Compared to others, I’m generally new to gaming. I was raised in a very small town of about a thousand people in middle of nowhere Oregon. My town was very weird, and the way I tend to describe my hometown is a combination of the quirky parts of Gravity Falls and the disturbing parts of Twin Peaks. When I was a child, I was fortunate to have access to acres of vast forests, but I was always drawn to multimedia, as opposed to the outdoors.
I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with my older brother on our small CRTV, but when I got older, and my brother moved out to start college, I sort of dropped off the gaming map. The last system I owned was an N64 with only 2 games; Donkey Kong 64 and Star Wars Pod Racing (I just learned that it’s actually called Star Wars Episode I: Racer, but I don’t really believe that’s true). I grew up dirt poor and lived 40 miles from the nearest store, so my access to gaming was very limited. I instead focused my energy on reading, writing, and art. I read old plays I found in my garage and would write synopses of how I’d produce them.
I didn’t get back into gaming until I was in my 3rd year of college in 2014, and found gaming to be incredibly similar to my major, Theatre, and from there my love of gaming bloomed. I found gaming and theatre to be about the experience for the audience and found game design similar to the construction of a show.
But hey, enough about my sappy past, let’s get down to the games, listed in chronological order of when I played them.
Super Mario Bros. 3
I watched my brother beat Super Mario Bros. 3 on our small old CRTV in the late ’90s. After my brother grew up and left for college, I was a bored, lonely child, and Mario was the first game I ever picked up and was determined to beat by myself. I would spend a few hours every day after school for what felt like a year slowly making my way through Mario. Even though gaming has changed quite a bit since then, Mario set the rules in my brain of how games should look, feel, and play. Super Mario Bros. 3 is the cornerstone for how I view gaming today.
Limbo was the first indie game I ever played. I watched a friend play it, was taken aback at the games visuals and KNEW I had to immediately go home and play it. Limbo got me back into gaming and opened up indie gaming for me as well. I loved the stark visuals, puzzles, and the overall tone. Limbo felt similar to film noir, or even an old expressionist film and to me, serves as an example of gaming as an art form. I also love the way Limbo tells its story through sound and ambiance. Ever since I first saw my friend boot it up, Limbo has been seared into my memory.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I got Animal Crossing on my birthday, gifted to me with an accompanying, brand new, pearl pink 3DS from my boyfriend, Tyler, who bought it with his very sparse budget. As soon as I got that game, I didn’t put it down. I think I’ve sunk about 300 hours into my town, and I used to set real-world phone alarms in order to catch certain fish and bugs. I completed everything in that game, and it was the first game I played that felt wholly mine. I don’t think I stopped playing until a year or two after I started it. The game is just so cute, and so pure, and I get easily addicted to open-ended community simulation games. Every time Animal Crossing is even brought up, I just think of my poor town that I’ve since abandoned.
Silent Hill 2
I played Silent Hill 2 over 10 years after the game’s original release, and it was still pretty damn terrifying, even on PS2. What I wasn’t expecting were the refined story elements. I tend to like stories that I can pick apart, and I was immediately drawn to the allusions about James’ sexuality and the various ways one could analyze the story. It also hits all three of the marks of the things I enjoy in general: spooky things, puzzles, and strong storytelling. I love how the whole game embraces the idea of Artaud (Theatre of Cruelty) which was what I studied extensively in college. The idea behind Artaud is to question the process by which things are done and allow artists to assault the senses of the audience, allowing them to feel the unexpressed emotions of the subconscious. It might seem pretty avant-garde, but Silent Hill 2 does this seamlessly. I’ve yet to play the game a second time, but I look forward to the day I do.
The Last of Us
After I finished the playable prologue for The Last of Us, I profusely cried. I’m a crier in general, but The Last of Us did me in with the short story they presented. The storytelling element in The Last of Us is powerful, but what stuck out to me most about this game is the way in which the mechanics tell the story. Naughty Dog is insanely clever in developing environmental cues, which couples with the script in order to guide the player into solving puzzles with ease. I also loved the moral aspect of The Last of Us and the many ways you can interpret what the title means. The game feels tangible and real, and that’s because of the way that the mechanics are developed. The Last of Us is not a game about zombies, it’s a game about the self and humanity.
Her Story is admirably simple. You type terms into a search engine in order to try and discover what happened in a murder. Your search brings up 5 relevant video clips of testimony by one (?) woman. I never fully figured out what happened, or if there is one true and final solution. I never watched all of the clips, and the order in which I watched them helped dictate what I believed to be the story. I still think about Her Story and still, I try to piece together what happened, even a few years after first playing it.
Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption was the first game I played by myself on the PS3 in the winter of 2015. I wrote an article earlier this year stating why this particular game changed my life. The combination of being isolated in the woods during the winter, and playing for hours on end made me see Red Dead as something similar to an Arthur Miller play. The game is tragic, human, and has a way of capturing the budding American west as well as a Ken Burns documentary. I couldn’t believe that a AAA game could be this good. Red Dead remains my favorite game to this day, and I still listen to the soundtrack on my drives through the wilderness and the mountainous hills of Oregon.
Life is Strange
When I played the first few episodes of Life is Strange, I hated it. I thought it was all some stupid teen drama game with some minimal choices and a bit of time travel. Boy, was I wrong. Once I hit the meat of the game, I was enraptured. Life is Strange is weirdly relevant to my life growing up in Oregon. I was essentially Max in high school, although I bet a majority of the people who play Life is Strange can say the same thing. I grew up in my weird small town saying things like “let’s go tea-tasting in Portland”, played acoustic guitar, and carried stupid artsy things with me.
It’s pretty painful in retrospect. I’m cringing as I write this. I had friends similar to Chloe and knew many people exactly like Frank. Life is Strange ended up reminding me about how painful, hilarious, and strange being a teenager is. Life is Strange is a masterpiece of indie gaming storytelling and helps redefine the genre of story-based adventure games. I’m consistently impressed at how well a French developer is able to capture life in a small Oregon town, and how eerily similar it does actually feel to Oregon – except Oregon has more trees.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild was the first Zelda game I ever finished. Since I grew up with limited games, I just completely missed the Zelda franchise that is such a staple among so many gamer’s youths. I started with Ocarina of Time maybe 3 years ago but ended up getting flustered at the old mechanics and not being able to get fully immersed in the story. Blasphemous, I know. I then moved on to trying Majora’s Mask, and made it a good 2/3rds of the way into the game, but ended up abandoning it because life happened instead. This spring, when BOTW came out, for three weeks, all I did was wake up, play Zelda, make dinner, play Zelda, sleep, and repeat. I have about 200 hours on that game, and like most players, a good amount of my time was spent goofing off. I am fully in love with Breath of the Wild and love every inch of it. I’m sure it would mean a great deal more if I had actually played more Zelda throughout my life, but I feel BOTW was a good introduction for me.
I picked up Stardew Valley for the Switch last week, promptly sunk 30+ hours into it and it’s already one of my favorite games. Stardew had been recommended to me by so many of my friends and colleagues and I’m just now finally getting around to playing it. Having the game, particularly on the Switch, feels like an Animal Crossing shaped void in my life has been filled. Stardew is sweet, simple and relaxing. The enjoyment I get out of the game comes from working hard on what I put into it, and then reaping what I sow. I play to relax after work and feel like Stardew is very therapeutic.
I feel like my journey as a gamer has only just begun. There are arguably massive gaps of gaming history that I’ve missed entirely, and I feel like I’m playing catch-up whenever I can. A lot of this doesn’t hold a nostalgic tinge, as I’ve only played within the last three years, but nonetheless, gaming is fully a part of who I am now.